The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 will have new winners on Sunday (March 25) when No. 1 seeds the Windies and second-seeded Afghanistan will face each other in the final at the Harare Sports Club in Zimbabwe.
This is the Windies’ maiden appearance in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier after they failed to qualify directly for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 by finishing outside the top eight on the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Team Rankings at the 30 September 2017 cut-off.
Afghanistan played in the qualifiers in 2009 in South Africa and finished fifth, but didn’t compete in the 2014 qualifier after having progressed to the 2015 World Cup by virtue of finishing second to Ireland in the ICC World Cricket League Championship.
Sunday’s winners will join Sri Lanka (1979), Zimbabwe (1982, 1986 and 1990), United Arab Emirates (1994), Bangladesh (1997), Netherlands (2001), Scotland (2005 and 2014) and Ireland (2009) to lift the silverware of one of the most competitive and keenly-contested tournaments on the international cricket calendar.
Both the Windies and Afghanistan have already qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, to be staged in England and Wales from 30 May to 14 July, but Sunday’s final is expected to be another cut-throat match for a number of reasons.
The Windies, two-time former world champions, are yet to beat Afghanistan in this tournament, having lost their warm-up match by 29 runs after Dawlat Zadran’s hat-trick, while in the Super Six encounter, Afghanistan prevailed over the Caribbean side by three wickets following Mujeeb Rahman’s three for 33 and Rahmat Shah’s 68.
Rashid Khan, the world’s No. 1-ranked bowler, is just one wicket away from becoming the fastest to 100 wickets. He presently has 99 wickets from 43 ODIs, while Mitchell Starc achieved the 100-wicket milestone in his 52nd ODI.
On a head to head, Afghanistan lead the Windies 2-1, while their one match in St Lucia was a no-result.
Looking ahead to the final, the Windies captain Jason Holder said: “Obviously, it’s a good opportunity to win the tournament. We felt we have done some really good things so far, we’ve obviously qualified for the World Cup, which was our first priority and obviously, coming into the final, it means a lot to us to finish off the tournament well and win it.
“I don’t think we have played the perfect game as yet. We’ve done some really good things but I don’t think we have strung together the performances in batting, bowling and fielding, so that is my challenge to get into this last encounter, to end this tour on a high and win this final.”
Reflecting on the tournament, Holder said: “This has been a really good tournament, highly competitive, actually I’m quite shocked by the level of competition here in the qualifiers. Most of the teams were quite evenly matched and we had some really close encounters and most of the games were thrilling. That is good for cricket, says a lot about world cricket and the standard of cricket.”
Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai said Sunday’s match was the biggest for his country and his side was looking forward to it very keenly. “A final against the Windies, a side we all followed as young kids. I don’t think it can get any bigger for Afghanistan,” he said. “For Afghanistan, the World Cup qualifier is a mini-World Cup and having now qualified for the World Cup, the target is to win this trophy and take it back to Kabul. The people of Afghanistan want to see this trophy in Afghanistan and we’ll leave no stone unturned in our efforts to fulfil their wishes.”
Asghar said his team would like to carry the momentum against the Windies into the final.
“We have beaten them twice in this tournament. We beat them once in their backyard. So, the momentum is with us and we’d like to take it into the final. The Windies are a great side, a side which has done more for cricket than any other cricket team. We have the highest respect for them, but at the same time, we will not be overawed by them and will try to win tomorrow.
“Our spinners are the best in the world. They not only showed their magic against the Windies in the Super Six, but in other matches. I think we lost matches in the tournament not because of them but because of change in captaincy due to my absence. Except once, I don’t remember when any side chased down 250 plus against us, until Scotland did this in Bulawayo.
“I would have never returned to the side if we were not in this situation. I am still 50 per cent fit and yesterday was almost on the verge of collapsing because the internal wounds are still fresh and have not healed properly. But my return has helped the spinners as they now feel more comfortable, while Rashid can concentrate on his bowling rather than thinking about game plans.”
The Windies’ charismatic Chris Gayle said Sunday’s match will be his final appearance in Zimbabwe and he wanted to finish on a high.
“It will be nice to actually finish playing in Harare to be honest. I hope it will be a full house and fans here in Zimbabwe are fantastic.
“The way they rock to the tunes in the stand and they cheer, I absolutely love it you know, one of the best fun zone or fun base that I have actually played in front of, I mean Zimbabwe, the South Africa dance and they love the beats, I have got to take back the music for sure.”
Gayle has played 12 of his 280 ODIs at the Harare Sports Club, scoring 435 runs with 112 not out against Zimbabwe in November 2003 as his highest.
The 38-year-old attractive batsman made his Test debut against Zimbabwe in Port of Spain in March 2000, while his first Test century (175) was also against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in July 2001. Overall, he played in eight Tests against Zimbabwe, scoring 498 runs with 175 as his highest.
“Don’t worry I can dance, I will dance with them, I’ll interact with the crowd on Sunday as well, I will have some fun for sure,” said one of the world’s most destructive batsmen.
Teams (to be selected from):
AFGHANISTAN: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Ihsanullah Janat, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Nasir Jamal, Javed Ahmadi, Mujeeb Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, Shahpoor Zadran and Sharafuddin Ashraf. Phil Simmons (coach)
THE WINDIES: Jason Holder (captain), Devendra Bishoo, Carlos Brathwaite, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Evin Lewis, Nikita Miller, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels and Kesrick Williams. Stuart Law (coach)
ON-FIELD UMPIRES: Michael Gough and Simon Fry
THIRD UMPIRE: Paul Wilson
FOURTH UMPIRE: Shaun George
MATCH REFEREE: Graeme La Brooy
* In the event of a tied final, the teams will compete in a Super Over to determine the winner. If weather conditions prevent the Super Over from being completed, or if the match is a no-result, the competition winner shall be the team that finished in the higher position in the Super Six stage.